|REBEL WITHOUT A CUSS: At that age, the only law
I'd broken was giving crossbar rides
I was 11 or 12 years old during the summer between grade seven and eight when I learned how cramped, uncomfortable and terrifying the back seat of a cop car is.
It’s an experience that never leaves you.
On that afternoon, Paul and I had purchased way more Mister Freezes than we actually wanted to eat, just so we’d have the empty tubes to burn. Even as I write this, I get a twinge of a Dairy Queen headache thinking about all the sickeningly sweet slush I sucked that day. (Another thing that should cause distress is how hard my father worked to earn the money that he gave to me that I ultimately, literally, burned. So I won’t think about that. )
I’m not sure if I’ve ever confessed this to anyone before but here goes: I was with my good pal Paul, whose surname I’m not sharing because his mom is still alive. He might not have told her.
It was a Saturday afternoon and we were hanging out at our “local;” a.k.a,, King George Public School on Regent Street in the west end of Sudbury.
King George was located precisely one and a half city blocks from the front door of the house I was raised in. Here’s how I got there. I walked out our front door, across the street, directly through Keegans’ yard to the laneway then through the United Church property out to Regent Street. King George was directly across Regent.
Fact is, if you yelled as loudly as you could from our front steps, kids at King George might have been able to hear you.
But to me, King George was a continent away. For one thing, King George was not in line of sight from our front door.
Also, it wasn’t a Catholic school. All the kids I hung out with were Catholic and we attended St. Albert's, which was a block north of our house. I’m thinking things like sneaking cigarettes came way easier on Protestant soil.
It gets better. King George was built on a hill. Good wintertime sliding. And in the summer, the grassy slope beside the basketball court was perfect for lazing around on. Plus there were cement steps leading up away from the court; ideal for looking cool and perching on or spitting sunflower seed shells off of.
The building also had about eight different entry and exit points and all sorts of alcoves and outdoor stairwells in case you wanted to do something secret. Plus there always seemed to be somebody to hang out with at King George.
Except on the afternoon Paul and I got busted. We had the basketball court to ourselves.
And we weren’t just hanging out: Paul and I were lighting Mister Freeze wrappers on fire. I don’t know if they still do, but back then, if you put a match to an empty Mister Freeze tube, it dripped technicolour flames. The excitement lasts, oh, five seconds, tops. It’s the kind of thing you’ll want to do again and again.
|HALF A CENTURY HENCE: Scene of the educational crime.
King George is now, aptly, a Montessori school.
We knew we were in for it the moment the cruiser pulled up right on to the basketball court. One of the cops got out the passenger door and directed us to the back seat, where the interrogation and/or arrests would take place.
Paul got in first and ended up behind the driver. I was on the passenger side and because the cruiser was pointed west, I could — in my mind — see the front door of our house on Eyre Street less than two blocks away. Behind that door were my mom, dad, sisters, brothers, our pet St. Bernard Casey and everything else I loved, and they were all going about life unaware of the fact that the baby of the family was about to be sent to Cecil Facer, which was the place south of town where we believed juvenile offenders (delinquents, we called them) ended up.
I hope you don’t think I’m overstating my fear.
The cops told Paul and me there’d been a break-in, at another nearby school called Princess Anne and they were thinking Paul and me might have had something to do with that, too.
We hadn’t been anywhere near Princess Anne. The nearest thing we’d done to breaking any laws up to that point was give our friends crossbar rides on our bikes. We were not tough guys. We were altar boys at St. Clement’s church.
I was shaking. My mouth was dry with fear.
I answered one question with “yes ossifer.”
I know, at least twice, I farted.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour but was probably more like 10 minutes of making us sweat, the policemen sprang us, and I sprang home.
I sprang so quickly in fact that I forgot my jacket.
It was yellow and on one shoulder had sewn an embroidered patch that read “Ontario Legislative Page.” The previous spring, I’d served a term as a page boy at Queen’s Park in the Ontario Legislature. I wore that jacket everywhere and just before Paul and I started our fiery fun, I had taken it off and hooked it over a fence post.
But when I got out of that cop car, I ran home, leaving my appropriately coloured jacket behind.
I went back the next day but no luck. Crime doesn’t pay.
P.S. Should you run across anybody from Paul’s family, mom’s the word.